Title photo credit: Daniel Sone, National Cancer Institute
I have another confession to make: I am an only child. I’m a lonely, pathetic, spoiled little shit whose parents didn’t love him enough to give him a little brother or sister.
Wait… that’s not right. Forget everything I just said. I am an only child, but the rest of the above statement is bull. I said it, however, to make a point: There aren’t any positive stereotypes about only children. (At least, I’ve never encountered any.) What’s up with that?
No, seriously, where does this stigma come from? Is it a holdover from earlier times when having a string of kids was more common and made more sense? Is there a secret cabal of conservative mothers influencing society with the express goal of shaming single-child families? If so, do they all look like paddle-wielding Fox News anchors? I can’t answer these questions, but the negative stereotypes definitely exist, and in my experience, they’re bullshit. Let’s take a look at some of them.
4: We’re Not Lonely
Photo credit: Daniel Sone, National Cancer Institute
This is easily one of the most common beliefs I’ve encountered about only children. People (with siblings) always seem to think that I must have been so lonely and sad as a kid. Well, here’s the thing: If you have siblings, you’ll probably never really be able to grasp what being an only child is like. Unless there’s a big enough age gap between you and your sibling that you spent most of your childhood on your own, you just can’t get inside my sibling-less head. (It smells like creatine and farts in there, anyway.)
I think when people with siblings imagine being an only child, what they’re really imagining is how they’d have felt as a kid if their siblings were suddenly taken away. And yes, losing a brother or sister must be heartbreaking, especially as a kid, or so I assume. I never claimed to be able to grasp what having siblings is like. I can’t miss what I’ve never had, though, so I never felt lonely.
Another question an only child might be asked is if they ever felt weird, sad, etc. seeing that all their friends had brothers and sisters. I can only speak for myself here, but no, it never bothered me. I occasionally wondered what it’d be like if I had a little brother or sister, but there was no yearning involved. Frankly, I had a hard time imagining it; I think I was pretty sure that my mom didn’t intend to have any more kids by the time I was six or so.
Photo credit: Fanny Schertzer
“Mommy, can you please stop burning me in effigy?”
3: We’re Not Spoiled Brats
Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Joshua Garcia, US Air Force
And now we have possibly the most prominent stereotype about only children—that they’re spoiled rotten. First off, how shall we define “spoiled?” For this entry, I’m thinking of “spoiled” in terms of a kid always getting what he/she wants, having lots of toys, and so on. And no, only children are not universally spoiled.
If I had to guess, I’d say spoilage of a child defined in the above context would most correlate with how much money the parents have as opposed to sibling count. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up dirt poor. If my mother gave me everything I wanted, we wouldn’t have had a place to live.
Photo credit: Benjamin D.Esham / Wikimedia Commons
On the other hand, I’d have had so many Legos that I could have built a house for us.
Full disclosure—I actually did have more toys than the other trailer park kids, but that’s only because my father’s family is rather large. Even receiving a single gift from everyone on birthdays or Christmases added up to a bunch of stuff. On top of that, I was quite a packrat.
Admittedly, I can’t speak for only children with parents from higher income brackets, though I can examine the case of my wife. Talia has an older sister, but she’s one of those sibling-ed people who’s more like an only child, as her sister is 13 years older and therefore didn’t live with Talia for most of her childhood. I’m not saying Talia’s parents were rich, but they still had way more money than mine. Nevertheless, I’ve seen no evidence of her having been a “spoiled brat” as a kid, for what that’s worth.
I’m sure there are only children whose parents bought them everything they ever wanted. Maybe people with siblings condemn them because they’re still bitter about having to share half a G.I. Joe with their dickhead older brother, but that’s on them. I don’t think having the sickest and most badass playsets as a kid automatically screws one up. Speaking of that…
2: We’re Not Maladjusted
Photo credit: José Serrano
This goes pretty hand in hand with the above entry, to the point where I considered making them both a single one. Only children never had brothers or sisters and never had to share anything, so they don’t know how to function with other people, right? Wrong. We’re only children, not cave hermits.
You know what happens to an overwhelming majority of only children? They go to school. And our supposedly spoiling parents don’t pull strings so we only have to go for a month; we go for at least 13 years like the rest of you. And you know who’s at school? Other. Fucking. Kids.
Photo credit: Peter van der Sluijs
There were adults, too, but they were institutionally mandated to be lame-ass tools, or something.
Guess what? We talk to other kids. It’s easy. This axe to grind with only children that some people have is clearly an adult issue; I've never seen a kid scorn another for having no siblings. So we all play together, fight each other, cooperate, compromise, and argue. In other words, we socialize. If you think only children aren’t socialized growing up, you’re full of shit. You may in fact be a parenting-obsessed busybody who needs to tell everyone how to raise their children.
You know what else, only child denouncers? Only children have friends, too! Shocking, isn’t it? (Wait, aren’t we supposed to be lonely?) By the way, have you ever heard of cousins? You don’t know shit about being an only child, so I assume you must have siblings. Don’t your brothers and sisters love your kids enough to have kids of their own so your children have cousins to play with during the holidays?
That brings me to my final point…
1: Yes, Our Parents Love Us
Photo credit: Vera Kratochvil
This isn’t the most common belief about only children, but I’ve definitely encountered it. Some people think that if you’re an only child, it’s because your parents didn’t love you enough to want another kid or give you a playmate or some such thing. I won’t mince words: That belief is complete fucking bullshit.
Photo credit: Richard Bartz
I know my mother loves me. (The evidence is varied with my father, but I know my mother does.) You know that baby I hung out with last fall? His mother already wants to have more kids, but his father isn’t so sure about that. (We’ll see how that plays out.) Nevertheless, it’s plainly obvious that the father clearly loves his kid. You don’t have to look too hard to find only children with loving parents.
Where does this idea about parents not loving only children come from? I suppose people with siblings take a parent’s presumed decision to not have any more kids to be some kind of referendum on the existing one. I guess they never considered the possibility that the parent(s) might have been rendered unable to have more children for some reason. Maybe they struggled to have their first child and have been trying ever since to have a second child, to no avail.
And yes, people do decide not to have any more kids after their first. Such was the case with my mother, but as I indicated above, that in no way implies a lack of love.
Wait a minute, so these same parents who spoil their only children and make them the center of attention at all times don’t love them? In closing, I’m an only child, and I’d like to know what some people with siblings are smoking.